Govt 'recognises preschool concerns'

02:27, Jul 25 2011

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples says the Government recognises concerns by the Kohanga Reo National Trust that Maori early childhood centres are being discriminated against.

Kohanga Reo are family-based Maori immersion preschools.

The Trust will today lodge an urgent claim in the Waitangi Tribunal. It believes the Crown discriminates against Kohanga Reo because they don't operate like mainstream early childhood education centres.

It claims the discrimination on several grounds including that the Government doesn't fund kaumatua - elders - who teach children because they are not qualified teachers, and that health and safety laws require centres to be fenced off from the marae and for sleeping children to be separated.

The claims asks for Kohanga to be given statutory independence away from the Education Ministry.

This morning there was a hikoi from Parliament buildings to the Waitangi Tribunal to deliver the claim.


Spokesperson Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi said Kohanga Reo had its own kaupapa.

"We are more than a centre where parents drop their children off and the kids do some finger painting. We involve the whole whanau, we have a total immersion environment, we pass on our culture and language to our mokopuna in order for our Maoritanga to be revitalised.''

However, Sharples said the Government understood Kohanga Reo wanted to pursue a statutory definition of kohanga reo.

The minister, who is also the Associate Education Minister, said he had conveyed those views to the Education Ministry in the past.

"I myself understand the wishes of whanau very clearly. I was there during the Hui Whakatauira when the idea of Kohanga Reo was launched, and even at that early stage, it was expressed that Kohanga Reo were a distinctly Maori kaupapa. Similarly we gained special legislation for Kura Kaupapa Maori in 1989.''

The importance of whanau in the revival of Maori language was also clearly recognised in a recent report, Te Reo Mauriora, which reviewed the Maori language strategy and sector, Sharples said.

"We are currently working through a process of dialogue with the Kohanga Reo National Trust, and I have a meeting scheduled to discuss these issues in the next fortnight.''

Sharples said he was unable to meet the hikoi in Wellington because of prior commitments in Auckland and a death in the family, but otherwise he would have been walking with the marchers himself.